By Kailan Manandic
Special to the Reporter
The City of Kirkland may change a zoning regulation that displaced a group of college students and young professionals because they violated the limit on unrelated occupants in a single-family zone.
Sarah Ulrich, 25, Kara Brackebusch, 25, and their four other housemates were looking to move out of the college apartment scene and found their “dream home” earlier this year.
“It was a great neighborhood,” Brackebusch said. “We had connections with our neighbors and were just starting to settle down … Now we live in a smaller place and we’re not even allowed to be in that area. It’s disappointing.”
The group moved into a Juanita neighborhood on Feb. 1 with a six-month lease, but were forced to find another home once the lease expired because the homeowner decided to sell the house after the city contacted them about a zoning violation.
“For them it was kind of the last straw,” Ulrich said. “I think they kept running up against these laws from Kirkland that were a real pain to deal with.”
Currently, regulations allow up to five unrelated persons in single family zones, which is specific to Kirkland, according to Jay Arnold, deputy mayor and head of planning and economic development. The group had one too many occupants in the house and they didn’t want to kick anyone out.
“That entire day was an emotional rollercoaster for us,” Ulrich said.
The city only knew about the violation because a neighbor reported the group in a letter to the city. This was a surprise and a negative blow to Ulrich, Brackebusch and their housemates.
“The neighborhood was not an issue, parking was not an issue and we weren’t causing the neighbors any concerns,” Ulrich said.
The neighbor who reported the group didn’t make a direct complaint but simply informed the city of the violation, according to Ulrich, who read the letter.
Ulrich asked the city to reconsider the law because she felt her group of friends weren’t causing issues in the neighborhood and the home was large enough for the six of them.
“I think this law should be reconsidered because for me the King County law makes sense,” she said. “We were living in a 2,100 square-foot house, it had four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms … there were no problems with the house size.”
Ulrich’s response to the city caught the attention of Mayor Amy Walen, who mentioned the zoning regulations at the July 18 city council meeting. Council referred the issue to the Planning and Economic Development Committee.
According to Arnold, the committee will study the issue and make a recommendation for action. The committee met on Sept. 11, but if council decides to change the regulation, it will take time.
Council would have to make the change or consider the change and process a zoning code amendment through committee said Eric Shields, planning and building director for Kirkland. Then the committee would come back to the council after a public comment period.
“I can’t think of single time where we’ve enforced this zoning code,” Shields said. “We wouldn’t know (about) or enforce (the violation) unless there are complaints.”
The group moved to Redmond, just outside the Kirkland city boundary, to avoid further complications with housing in Kirkland. The group spent a lot of time researching zoning regulations and found that Redmond allows up to eight unrelated occupants.
“We’re basically as close to Kirkland that we can be,” Ulrich said. “We knew about the King County law, which says two people per bedroom and then it has a couple different stipulations with that … But we weren’t aware of the Kirkland law.”
Ulrich and Brackebusch said they think the neighbor who reported them may have assumed they were a group of college students and wanted the neighborhood to host only families. But there are only two college students in the group and Ulrich said they are as close as family.
“Encountering obstacles like that is just very frustrating. Some people almost moved on … It almost broke apart the family that we had going on. Fortunately it didn’t.”
The next meeting during which council may discuss this issue will be held Oct. 3.